All teamwork is conversation — find out what conversations are missing.
A conversation audit approach for leaders
One of the first observations that I had as a team coach was the great divide between what teams say as a group and what the individuals say, 1 to 1, in coaching.
It is relatively accepted that there are boastful stories and shy stories in all organisations and that these are expressed through many conversations in many places:
The boardroom conversations.
The desk conversations.
The water fountain conversations.
The after-work conversations.
The midnight WhatsApp conversations.
There is a lot being said, by all — in all contexts.
This goes without saying and is a key ingredient of all social environments, the glue that binds people together and the force that divides us. Romance is formed and wars are fought over conversations had and not had.
The value of communication, through conversation, is at the core of almost all teamwork functions. HR, finance, IT, management, clinician, customer, patient… there is no organisational function that can thrive without conversation with others.
As teams form and evolve, subtle and unspoken rules form about what is said and unsaid. A new tribe comes together and the rhythm of its being forms and slowly solidifies into stone.
In our personal lives, we have our own narratives about conversations when we talk about our own families… “we never deal with confrontation in our family”, “we never discuss religion”, “my parents never mention my Uncle”… this is a common part of family systems and is a commonality to teams also, with one slight difference…
Teams are led!
Leaders form teams or are given teams, through which a goal is delivered or strived for. A leader has the power to influence the rules and culture of a team, if they have the capability. Leaders can close conversations that are necessary, be unaware that new conversations even exist or make available channels of conversation that can serve a team and its goals.
Here I will provide an approach to leaders, to audit the conversations that are essential to foster a healthy team dynamic.
Ask yourself if any of the conversations listed below, are missing from your own repertoire or your team’s?
Positive enquiry: Are your team encouraged to notice positivity in each other and to express it. Are you telling team members why you appreciate them and prompting the same across your team?
Failure is expected: Does your leadership include conversations that reassure all of team that failures are expected and the willingness to try is the greatest gift an organisation can ever strive for? Are you encouraging innovation of spirit?
Try to win: Linked to the above, are you encouraging risk taking to win? Nobody wins from playing it safe — even in healthcare delivery. Risk creates new possibilities and can open the door to new innovations that can bring benefits. Sometimes they don’t — but they always don’t if they are never risked.
Uncertainty is the norm: Leaders often expect certainty from a team and this causes teams to freeze. Don’t ask for the answer all of the time, ask for a display of enthusiasm to work the answer out or fail trying. Embrace uncertainty, as anything else is simply delusional — for all of life is uncertain and it is a failure of the leader not to see this.
Leaders serve not solve: Do your team realise that you don’t have all of the answers? Do you even realise it? No individual can compete with a team. Converse about how the team succeeds when they can act without you and serve them to acheive this as often as possible.
Emotions are allowed: Don’t hold back conversations about how people feel, go hunting for them! Constantly lead as a barometer for how your team feel and translate this into action — compassion, support…
Compassion not blame: Learn to talk about the work of your team through a lense of compassion. Individuals with lives, feelings and problems of their own are helping you to acheive your goals. Embrace this and allow them to be more than just functions.
This is not a comprehensive list, but a primer.
Rules are easy to break and remould. Create a culture of conversation that allows these themes and guides them in the right direction. Over time, the tribe will learn the new way of being and sitting around the camp fire together won’t be quite so tense.